Teach First: A Severely Flawed Graduate Scheme

As graduation looms, so too does the prospect of future employment.  Off the back of this comes the frequent appearance of Teach First at careers fairs, handing out flyers in Portland Building or sponsoring university debates.  Pitching itself as a scheme with a ‘mission to end educational inequality’, it offers graduates a two-year placement teaching in a secondary school, while essentially being trained on the job.

In theory, the idea sounds plausible. It offers graduates the opportunity of a stable career straight after university, with the aim of addressing societal inequality and benefiting financially disadvantaged children.  However, further reading into the website reveals that ‘half continue to teach and many move into middle and senior leadership positions in schools.’  It also goes on to state that ‘others move into other positions in government, businesses, social enterprise and the third sector.’  It’s difficult to comprehend why this is meant positively.  The fact that potentially only half of the people on the scheme actually continue teaching is startling.  It is also understandable.

“Teach first is becoming increasingly perceived as a stop gap: something that will look good on a CV and then act as a propellant to an easier, better paid career”

As the child of two state sector teachers, awareness of the extreme difficulties posed by teaching has not evaded me. The harsh reality of a career teaching in a state secondary school probably doesn’t correspond with graduates’ expectations of Teach First, particularly when paired with the relative lack of teaching qualification they have before being thrown into schools. These schools are tough. With the diversity of any comprehensive establishment across the country, behavior is as varied as the cultural backgrounds from which the children come. To expect a 20 or 21 year old to be able to teach in them full time with no prior experience is ludicrous. Is it any wonder that many of them buckle and subsequently opt for a different career path?

Unfortunately, Teach First is becoming increasingly perceived as a stop-gap: something that will look good on a CV and then act as a propellant to an easier, better paid career.  This seems to completely defeat the object of it.  People shouldn’t be put off teaching by a scheme that aims to promote it.  It is an unrealistic vision of teaching that neglects to address many of the fundamental values underpinning the profession.

“People shouldn’t be put off teaching by a scheme that aims to promote it”

This is not to mention the effect it may have on the children who are subject to the ideologies it implements. I don’t doubt that graduates tackle the job with enthusiasm and commitment, however there’s a reason that half of them don’t end up in teaching.  Teach First states a belief that it will inspire ‘a movement of leaders across society who are committed to ending educational inequality’. Quite how they propose to do this with half of their employees dropping out of teaching after two years is highly dubious.  Surely consistency is a necessary factor when it comes to education, and if children are being faced by a stream of young trainees barely older than they are, then this factor becomes null.

Rather than teaching being advertised as a romanticised platform from which a leap into the private sector will be possible, the realities of it should be made clear, thus appealing to only the hardy few who are willing to tackle an increasingly difficult profession being made ever worse by the current conservative government.

Anna Hand

Image by Toby Neal on Flickr

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Kate
    20 May 2017 at 22:04
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    This is an interesting write up on a charity that I once thought highly of. I joined Teach First two years ago after graduating from university and dreaming of being a teacher since I can remember! The lack of support for the young people entering a really tough profession is startling and the lack of empathy when the new teaches go through tough times is disappointing. I left teaching just 18 months after starting due to health reasons and I take my hat off to the 50% who choose to stick with it! For me, it wasn’t intended to be a stop gap, but unfortunately, that’s what it was.

  • Alex
    11 September 2017 at 21:06
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    I spoke to somebody at Teach First today at a networking event and she stated, which made sense to me, that the reason Teach First are proud of the fact that it is also a pathway into other jobs at big finance companies is that having somebody who shares the same values as them will go a long way if they are working in a big company with influence in the economy and the politics of our country. This could in turn lead to these big companies doing more philanthropic work helping to reduce the inequality of education etc etc.

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